Majority Leader Eric Cantor will step down as majority leader at the end of July, opening up a short, spirited race to fill his post ahead of a House GOP vote next week.
The Virginia Republican lost the GOP primary in Virginia’s Seventh District to tea party candidate David Brat on Tuesday night in one of the biggest upsets in recent political history, quashing what had been a quick rise to power for the 51-year-old. Analysts have speculated that Mr. Cantor lost touch with the constituents back home while focusing more on his national presence as a leader of the Republican party.
The news now creates a gigantic vacuum for the Republican majority’s leadership team and has prompted a contest that is already under way. The vote will be held June 19.
Rep. Steve Stivers, Ohio Republican, said he received a text message at 1 a.m., just five hours after Mr. Cantor’s defeat was announced, from a colleague seeking support to be the next majority leader.
He said contenders for majority leader include House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas and candidates for whip included Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois.
“Kevin’s been a good friend of mine — I think Kevin’s done a good job as whip,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia Republican. “We all don’t know who’s going to be in the race right now so I think it’s a little premature, but I like Kevin — he’s a good friend. I think he’d make a great majority leader.”
Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas has also been mentioned as a possible contender for majority leader.
Rep. John Fleming, Louisiana Republican, said that he expects the elections will result in a more conservative leadership team.
“There’s a lot of names but they are all conservative,” he said. “I’m hearing some of the other leadership members who are still wanting to stay in, but it sounds like a lot of movement out there when it comes to a more conservative faction in leadership.”
Mr. Fleming, a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, said that Mr. Cantor likely lost the primary election because conservative voters blame Republican leadership for not fighting hard enough against the Obama administration.
“We are getting so much frustration [and] so much anger from our constituents who tell us that we must stop this administration [that] they feel it is lawless,” he said. “They are angry at Democrats but they are angry at us for not pushing back harder. I think that manifests itself in our leadership because they know there is very little we can do without leadership on that matter.”
Mr. Stivers said he was “shocked” by Mr. Cantor’s loss and that other members “are as surprised as I was.”
“It’s like professional football on any given Sunday,” he said. “On any given Tuesday, anybody can win and anybody can lose, and that’s why we need to stay in front of our constituents and make sure that we are doing what our constituents want.”